There is an old saying in management circles that “you won’t predictably get what you don’t predictably measure”. Likewise, “you can’t measure what you don’t define.” Effective organizations do both.....they define and measure. In Effective Organization Characteristic #1, we discussed how effective organizations communicate not only mission, goals and values, but also performance and results expectations as a means of providing a clear definition of what results are expected. This definition and communication of expectations occurs throughout the organization, from top management down through the front lines.
Individuals must understand how their performance fits into the overall performance of the organization and what specific results are required for that to occur. This requires that managers and supervisors make sure that their employees understand those expectations through regular and effective dialogue. While definition of expectations is absolutely required for effectiveness, measurement of and feedback concerning performance is also critical for success of both the individual and the organization.
Measurements can be either qualitative (no numerical value) or quantitative (based on numerical value). Most organizations use both, but those that are highly effective focus decision making on quantitative measurements of performance. They identify particular measurements that are associated with achievement of their objectives and monitor those measurements over time. These measurements are often referred to as “Key Performance Indicators (KPI)” because they are central (Key) to evaluating the effectiveness of various efforts, both at the individual and organizational levels.
Leading & Lagging Indicators
Performance measurement can, and should focus not only on the output (results), but also on the process of achieving that output. Effective organizations actually focus more on what are referred to as “Leading Indicators” associated with the process than they do on “Lagging Indicators” associated with the output. They are obviously interested in final results but they understand that the success of the process is directly related to the success of the output.
For example, when attempting to impact safety performance, effective organizations measure Leading Indicators such as frequency of engaging in specific unsafe behaviors and frequency of intervention by another person when observing a person engage in an unsafe action. These Leading Indicators are related to Lagging Indicators such as Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR).
These effective organizations find that reducing unsafe behavior through intervention by another person leads to the desired reduction of TRIR and thus are better measurements of safety performance than TRIR. The key is to evaluate the result desired and the process for achieving that result with the use of KPI’s that are meaningfully associated with that result from both a leading and lagging perspective.
If no one knows the results of the measurement, then the measurement will have no effect on future performance. It would be like trying to adjust your speed in an automobile to the legal posted speed without looking at the speedometer. You might get close but you would probably not be as close (effective) in driving the speed limit as you would if you monitored your speed quantitatively.
Effective organizations identify methods for allowing employees to get regular and predictable feedback on performance (KPI’s) for both personal and organizational performance. In Effective Organization Characteristic #4, we discussed how effective organizations hold people accountable for results in the sense of “accounting” for and understanding why those results were achieved. This accounting requires both measurement of performance and feedback about the results of that measurement.
Feedback, as with accountability, does not require the application of a consequence (either positive or negative), however a consequence may be associated with the feedback as appropriate. For example, when you monitor your speedometer while driving there is not always a consequence unless you happen to be speeding and a police officer is also monitoring your speed. Your measurement (monitoring) may, however, result in a correction to the legal speed prior to a ticket.
What's the point?
This is what effective organizations do. They monitor performance at all levels and provide appropriate, quantitative, predictable feedback that will lead to the best performance and results possible.